Long-term tropical cyclones activity shapes forest structure and reduces tree species diversity of U.S. temperate forests

Pavel Fibich, Bryan A. Black, Jiří Doležal, Grant L. Harley, Justin T. Maxwell, Jan Altman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Increasing tropical cyclone (TC) pressure on temperate forests is inevitable under the recent global increase of the intensity and poleward migration of TCs. However, the long-term effects of TCs on large-scale structure and diversity of temperate forests remain unclear. Here, we aim to ascertain the legacy of TCs on forest structure and tree species richness by using structural equation models that consider several environmental gradients and use an extensive dataset containing >140,000 plots with >3 million trees from natural temperate forests across eastern United States impacted by TCs. We found that high TC activity (a combination of TC frequency and intensity) leads to a decrease in maximum tree sizes (height and diameter), an increase in tree density and basal area, and a decline in the number of tree species and recruits. We identified TC activity as the strongest predictor of forest structure and species richness in xeric (dry) forests, while it had a weaker impact on hydric (wet) forests. We highlight the sensitivity of forest structure and tree species richness to impacts of likely further increase of TC activity in interaction with climate extremes, especially drought. Our results show that increased TC activity leads to the homogenization of forest structure and reduced tree species richness in U.S. temperate forests. These findings suggest that further declines in tree species richness may be expected because of the projected increase of future levels of TC activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number163852
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume884
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023

Keywords

  • Eastern United States
  • Forest structure
  • Temperate forests
  • Tree height
  • Tree species diversity
  • Tropical cyclones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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